Knowing your FMLA rights can help protect your job when a parent needs more care.

4 minute read

As your parents age, you may find yourself devoting more time to driving them to doctors’ appointments, helping with daily living activities or managing in-home care services. Meanwhile, if you’re still working, you also have to answer to the boss when it comes to taking time off to help your aging parents.

That’s a tough position for all concerned, but take heart that you’re not the first person to juggle a job while trying to be there for Mom or Dad. Nearly 42 million Americans are caregivers for an adult over age 50, according to “Caregiving in the U.S.,” a 2020 report from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving. Around 50% of those surveyed for the report care for a parent or parent-in-law.

Acting as a caregiver for an older parent is so common that there’s a federal law – the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – designed to make sure you keep your job if you need time off to care for a parent or other immediate relative with health issues.

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1. The FMLA protects your job

The FMLA is a federal law allowing employees to take up to 12 months a year of unpaid leave from work to take care of a family member or attend to their own health needs without losing their jobs. Employees may take intermittent FMLA leave in separate blocks of time or on a reduced work schedule for a single qualifying reason when it is medically necessary.

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2. FMLA is for caring for immediate family only

You can take FMLA leave to care for a spouse, child or parent but not to take care of a parent-in-law, sibling, grandparent, aunt, uncle or other relative. In some cases, an employee may be able to receive FMLA leave to care for an adult where there was an “in loco parentis” relationship, meaning the person needing care stood in as a parent when the employee taking FMLA leave was a child.

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3. FMLA leave is unpaid time off

When you take FMLA time, you won’t be paid for the time you take off. The law is in place to protect your job while you take time off to care for a relative or yourself but does not require your employer to pay you for the time you’re away from work under FMLA leave. However, while federal FMLA leave is unpaid, many companies offer paid or unpaid FMLA leave as an employee benefit.

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4. You must work for a covered employer

To take FMLA leave, you must work for a covered employer. To be a covered employer, a business must employ 50 or more people for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year. The FMLA also applies to local, state and federal public agencies and schools.

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5. Not everyone is eligible for FMLA

In addition to working for a covered employer that has 50 or more employees within seven miles, to be eligible for FMLA, you must have worked 1,250 hours in the 12 months leading up to the leave. You also need to have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, although the months don’t have to be consecutive. Airline flight crew employees have different requirements for hours of service worked.

Generally, only employment within the last seven years is counted, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). There are two exceptions, however. An employee may still be eligible for FMLA if the break in service was due to the employee fulfilling military obligations or because of a collective bargaining or other written agreement.

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6. You must give advance notice

Generally, employees must give their employer at least 30 days’ notice when requesting FMLA leave when foreseeable. “When the need for leave is foreseeable less than 30 days in advance or is unforeseeable, employees must provide notice as soon as possible and practicable under the circumstances,” according to the DOL.

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7. Your job must be restored after FMLA leave

When you return from FMLA leave, your employer is legally required to return you to the same job or an equivalent job in a nearly identical position, according to the DOL. You’re also entitled to receive the same pay or pay premiums such as a shift differential, overtime or any cost-of-living or other increases you would have received if you were not on leave.

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8. Your employer must leave health plan benefits intact

While you’re on FMLA leave, your employer is legally required to continue your group health coverage and provide the benefits offered in the health plan during the FMLA leave just as if you had continued to work. While on leave, you must continue to pay any health plan premiums.

If the employer changes the health plan or provides a new plan or benefits while you are on FMLA leave, you’re entitled to the new health plan and benefits to the same extent as if you hadn’t taken the leave.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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